Chesterfield's Crooked Spire: Mission with a Twist

When, as legend has it, the devil sat on Chesterfield parish church’s spire, little did he know that he would create one of the county’s most iconic church buildings, grabbing people’s attention far and wide. 

If the legend were true, then good clearly triumphed over evil. 

The slightly less glamourous reality is that the Crooked Spire’s distinctive feature was caused by the weight of the roof distorting its wooden frame, causing the woodwork to twist and bend – resulting in the tip of the spire being some nine feet off centre.

But once inside the church, visitors quickly see that St Mary and All Saints is much more than just a crooked spire. It is Derbyshire’s largest parish church and it sits right at the heart of Chesterfield’s communities.  

And it is beautiful.

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Visitors not only enjoy the spire and touring the tower, but they also enjoy the stained glass, carved altar pieces and the elegant archways and complexity of its construction. 

“There’s something from every era and little architectural rubbish,” says the vicar, the Revd Patrick Coleman. 

“And I don’t think there is anywhere else that has a building that defines the place quite as much.” 

He says there is a real sense of community, both in the town and in the church itself. 

“Chesterfield still has a great sense of civic pride and plenty of proud traditions, such as the May Day procession and market-based events, and the people here are straightforward, honest and frank.” 

Festival of trees

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The Crooked Spire itself has a particular event that has become a new tradition – the annual Christmas tree festival. From humble beginnings in 2014, when it ran for only a week, it now attracts around 20,000 visitors who come to see around 110 trees, all beautifully decorated – some very innovatively and creatively – drawing comments of “stunning” and “awesome”.  

It’s a huge effort for the church – organisation starts in April and there are weeks of preparations beforehand as mounting boards and electrics are installed and rotas worked out for the two weeks of the festival. 

Father Patrick says: “The Christmas tree festival is wonderful for breaking down barriers. Around 80% of visitors don’t engage with the church at any other time of year and many confess that they have ‘never been in here before’, but the festival shows everyone that the Crooked Spire is open for them.  

“It also brings people into the town. The first weekend is timed to coincide with the turning on of Chesterfield’s Christmas lights, so there is huge footfall, and it finishes on the first Sunday of Advent so the trees can go back to their providers with God’s blessing.” 

>> Visit CrookedSpire.org

But first and foremost, the Crooked Spire is a place of worship and people come here to pray every day. And what it does every day is every bit as important as what it does at Christmas and on other special occasions. 

“That is our raison d'être; everything else is our way of opening up the church for people. 

“We want people to come in and relate to God on God’s terms, not on the Church’s. That’s a really good way of looking at things because we don’t know what God is saying to them – and it’s none of our business. 

“We find that approach - together with excellence of worship, scripture, liturgy and music – is very attractive to people. Ours is a very traditional style of worship, but also very passionate. 

“Our ethos is that we build bridges for God to bring people into the church - and then we welcome them. We also offer space for those who are unsure. 

“It’s a case of just allowing people to be – and then let God work out where things go from there. We have to do that in many aspects of life.” 

The Crooked Spire is a busy church and so is immensely grateful to its dozens of volunteers: servers, choir, shop assistants, welcomers, PCC etc., and Father Patrick is insistent that they all receive a regular, personal ‘thank you’. 

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The team also busies itself with town centre ministry – its ministry of presence – several times a week, talking to business and their staff and engaging with those who make eye contact. 

Also keeping things busy are the regular tower tours (if you want the best views of Chesterfield and its surroundings, then a tower tour is a must!) and, in the future, Father Patrick has a desire to create a choral festival and attract more quality music: “There might not be a big enough audience for classical concerts, but I think Chesterfield sometimes has a bit of a problem of people going elsewhere to see things they could easily see here – Sheffield is only a few miles up the road. 

“This church can help people to enjoy music in their own town. 

“But events in the church should always relate to the core purpose of being a house of prayer, so we wouldn’t want it to be seen as just another concert venue or exhibition space.” 

The Crooked Spire is at the centre of a community that is very much alive and flourishing, and Father Patrick believes the building will evolve into being a beacon of what a traditionally founded parish church can do in mission. 

That means it won’t be stuck in the past but will continue to work with things that, like its famous spire, have stood the test of time. 

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Spire facts 

St Mary and All Saints is largely medieval; the spire was added in around 1362. 

The spire twists through 45 degrees, leans 9 ft 6 ins from its true centre and is 228 feet high. 

The lead on the spire weighs approx. 33 tonnes

>> Visit CrookedSpire.org

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